What Is a Counseling Degree?

What Is a Counseling Degree?People who choose a career in counseling are usually motivated by a desire to help others work through various life challenges. Whether it’s working primarily with children, adults, or in specific settings such as schools or in private practice most counselors have one thing in common: they care about people.

So what is a counseling degree? The answer varies depending on your field of study and the counseling programs you complete. Some candidates attend traditional counseling degree programs while others opt to enroll in online counseling degree programs. In either case, some examples of classes you will take include counseling theory, best practices in counseling, crisis intervention, case studies in counseling and human growth and development.

How to Find the Top Counseling Programs

When you are choosing a counseling program at a university, you will want to find the the best degree for you and choose one of the best programs possible. You should look for a school with an exceptional reputation yet affordable tuition. You will need to find classes that fulfill your degree requirements and work with your schedule. The school should provide hands-on classes and practical training so you can learn by doing.

The University of Phoenix offers one of the best counseling degree programs for undergraduates interested in a psychology major. Walden University in Minnesota offers traditional classes and has a stellar reputation with one of the best online counseling degree programs available for distance learning. North Central University in Arizona also boasts one of the top graduate programs in marriage and family counseling. They also have the option of online counseling programs.

No matter where you choose to attend school, look for an accredited program with a solid reputation and top ranking.

Resource: The Top 10 Best Online Counseling Degree Programs

Careers and Salaries for Individuals with Counseling Degrees

In order to maximize your earning potential, you must first receive a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree. Additionally, when you become a licensed counselor, you will improve your hiring options.

After you have completed your bachelor’s and master’s degree, served your internship and gained your accreditation and licensing, you will want to know what kind of pay you can expect. Counseling salaries vary depending on your specialties, type of education and experience in the field. For example, one of the highest-paying degrees you can obtain in counseling is for a psychologist. In 2010, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a psychologist stood at almost $69,000 annually, and the job outlook was above average for the field. In comparison, the average yearly wage for a substance abuse counselor was just over $41,000 in 2010. Other career options include school counselors, family therapists, addiction counselors, life coaches, behavioral disorder counselors and rehabilitation counselors.

Types of Counseling Degrees

Some provide client-centric models, others medical models. This distinction can play as large a role in determining which capacity you will serve in as counselor.

M.S. Clinical Counseling

Clinical counselors deal with the prevention, diagnosis, assessment and treatment of mental disorders. They generally work with mentally healthy individuals experiencing difficult or traumatic life events such as divorce or the death of a loved one. This is one of the best degrees available for those interested in pure counseling, helping normal people work through difficult circumstances or helping them deal with the onset of mental disorders.

M.S. Counseling Psychology

Counseling Psychology differs from Clinical Psychology in that it deals with generally psychologically healthy individuals instead of seriously mentally ill patients. Counseling Psychology has grown out of vocational psychology and tends to use a more client-centered model as opposed to the medical model of Clinical Psychology.


The Master of Social Work degree is one of the most widely applicable advanced degrees available. It is not uncommon for M.S.W. graduates to be eligible to be licensed as counselors in many states. As one of the top counseling degrees, the unique perspective of the M.S.W. degree prepares the student for work with a variety of people of different backgrounds and life experiences and in a wide variety of contexts, making it one of the most versatile degrees available for those interested in counseling or any social or human services professions.

M.S. Psychology -General Psychology

Some states require a Doctorate for a license in counseling. An M.S. in General Psychology is a great choice for people living either in those states that only require a Masters or those that require a Doctorate as it provides a strong foundation for both immediate practice and continuing education. The degree isn’t as specific as some that are available, however that is an attractive quality to those students fascinated by the field as a whole and want a broader focus.

M.S. Clinical Psychology

This particular degree lends itself to the ongoing study of psychology and is perfect for people wanting to become counselors in states that require a doctorate. The M.S. in Clinical Psychology provides a broad but intensive study of the field of clinical psychology itself and is perfect for those future counselors that desire to work in a clinical setting. As one of the top counseling degrees, the M.S. in Clinical Psychology is also a perfect option for those seeking to become counselors, but also considering the pursuit of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology down the road.

M.S. Psychology -Applied Psychology

The M.S. in Applied Psychology is specifically for people looking to enter the counseling field with a Master’s degree. It covers everything from psychopathology and diagnosis to assessment and advanced treatment methods. Two tracks are often offered, either a counseling focused track or an organizational psychology track giving the student two strong choices of specialization.

M.S. School Psychology

The M.S. in School Psychology is perfect for those looking to work with children in the capacity of guidance counselor, however that is not its focus. In recent years a need for a mental health professional to oversee the mental health of children in the school setting has been noticed. The M.S. in School Psychology degree qualifies graduates to fill the position of School Psychologist. It’s a perfect program for those interested in being more hands on when it comes to the mental health aspect than a guidance counselor is.

M.S. in Mental Health Counseling

The M.S. in Mental Health Counseling prepares the students for a career working as a mental health counselor in community contexts such as clinics, hospitals, schools, rehabilitation agencies, career planning centers, residential treatment facilities , employee assistance programs, and other mental health agencies. This is another very strong choice for those seeking to work as a counselor after obtaining their Master’s degree and strong programs will help the student fully achieve all necessary requirements for licensure in their given state.

Master of Education in School Psychology

The Master of Education in School Psychology degree will prepare graduates to work as a school psychologist much as the M.S. in School Psychology degree but this approach comes from the education side of the equation. This program has an increased focus on the educational impact of the psychological challenges faced by many students and offers training in not only how to care for the students’ mental health, but to do so in such a way that maximizes their functionality in a school setting as well.

M.S. Sport Psychology

Sport Psychology trains a counselor to aid individuals and teams with the psychological factors that are part and parcel of the professional sports world. Sports psychology also studies the mental and emotional aspects of everything from participation in team sports, to the benefits of exercise. Most sports psychology programs cover inspiration, motivation, and goals in addition to the advanced psychology courses that are including in any advanced psychology degree.